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Bad news for McCain in PA?
Early voting heavy here, across nation
[B]New Era exit poll finds Obama running surprisingly strong among morning voters in this Republican-dominated county[/B]. Survey also indicates trouble for home rule.
Lancaster New Era
Published: Nov 04, 2008
By TOM MURSE, Staff Writer
Lancaster County voters flocked to the polls in droves early today — many waiting in lines stretching as long as 150 people in the predawn hours — to finally cast ballots in a presidential race that drew to a close after two years.
A long line stretches along the side of St. Peter's Lutheran Church off Route 501 and Delp Road a few minutes before voting began today.
[B]New Era interviews with nearly 200 early-morning voters in city, suburban and rural districts here found Democrat Barack Obama running ahead in this GOP-dominated county — a bad sign for Republican John McCain's chances of winning Pennsylvania.
"We need some change in the country and I don't particularly like how the last eight years went," Jeanne Hamilton, a 65-year-old retired teacher from Lancaster, said of her vote for Obama and running mate Joe Biden.
Big voter turnout here
The New Era's survey of voters also showed deep skepticism and confusion about the proposed home rule charter, a plan to dramatically restructure county government. Most of those interviewed said they voted against it.
"People put in there are the problem, not the system," said Judy Dagen, 62, a pharmacy technician from Willow Street. "We don't need bigger government."
Turnout was heavy locally, where voters were also deciding races for the U.S. House and the state Legislature. And polling places were busy across the state and nation. Many Pennsylvania voters were greeted with long lines even as they arrived before polls opened at 7 a.m.
"This is really impressive. I've never seen it like this," said Bryan Grill, surveying the line of voters at Grace Brethren Church in Lititz. The county employee was making the rounds of polling places to ensure things were running smoothly.
Turnout is likely to rival that of the 1960 presidential election between GOP nominee Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy, when 88 percent of Pennsylvania's registered voters and more than 70 percent of the state's voting-age population cast ballots.
Statewide, an estimated 6 million people were expected to vote.
The county's 234 polling locations will remain open through 8 p.m. All those in line at 8 p.m. will be able to vote, said Mary Stehman, the county's top elections official.
[B]In perhaps the most distressing sign for McCain's campaign, a survey of 186 Lancaster County voters — long seen as the bread and butter of statewide GOP campaigns — found Obama favored by a majority, albeit a slim one.
Of those interviewed, 55 percent here said they backed the Democrat for president. About 44 percent said they voted for McCain and running mate Sarah Palin. About 1 percent backed Libertarian candidate Bob Barr.
"I thought the McCain campaign tried to evoke fear about Barack Obama," said Nicole Johnson, 25, a church secretary and Lancaster City resident. "I didn't want to vote for McCain out of fear."
Evan Owens, a 24-year-old Pequea resident, said the economy is his foremost concern and that Obama has the best chance of getting the country back on the road to recovery.
"It's time for a change," he said. "I want my kids to have some kind of economic wealth when they grow up."
Voters who sided with the Republican ticket said they were inspired by Palin, the Alaska governor, and McCain's experience.
"I trust McCain with the war," said Osirs Maldonado, 63, a retired New York City police officer and former county sheriff who lives in New Holland.
He said Obama is "promising things that he can't deliver. And when he promises to take from one group of people and give it to other people, that's socialism."
Ed Hoffman, a 59-year-old retiree from Gap, also voted for McCain. "I'm a hunter and all the Democrat wants is handgun control, he wants to register the guns. Those are major issues," Hoffman said.
Several voters cited McCain's anti-abortion stance as the single most important reason they voted Republican.
Kelly Sproul, 44, an elementary teacher from Manor Township, says she did not like the way McCain ran an antagonistic campaign, but he got her vote "because of his experience. I've followed him in the Senate."
Eight New Era reporters conducted the interviews in 23 voting districts across Lancaster County, from the city and its suburbs to rural townships and outlying boroughs.
The survey, conducted in the first three hours of voting, is only a snapshot of early voting activity, but it has proven in past years to be a reliable indicator of voter preferences.
An Obama victory in Lancaster County would be stunning for a number of reasons. For one thing, local voters haven't sided with a Democrat since 1964, when they chose Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater.
For another, Republican still hold a 1.7-to-1 voter registration edge in the county, even though that margin has been eroding in recent years. There are 72,057 more registered Republicans than Democrats here.
Even if McCain wins the county, it appears that his margin will come nowhere close to President Bush's 2004 victory here over U.S. Sen. John Kerry; the Republican incumbent topped the Democrat by 71,263 votes, or about 66 percent to 33 percent. In 2000, Bush beat Democratic nominee Al Gore by 60,932 votes, winning 66 percent to 31 percent.
Though Bush won big here, he still lost the state in both elections, meaning that McCain and Palin would need a larger win here and across the Republican-rich midstate to help offset typically large Democratic margins in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
On the proposed home rule charter, 60 percent of the 186 voters surveyed this morning said they voted against restructuring county government. Many voters said they simply didn't understand the charter. Others said they believed it would mean bigger, and more expensive, government.
"I read up on it and it hasn't worked in other places. It means more government and we need less government," said Susan Smerick, 53, an administrative assistant from Mount Joy.
"I'm not happy with three (commissioners)," said David Minnich, 41, an R.R. Donnelley supervisor from Conestoga. "We don't need five. I'm for more power at the local level."
Scott Skiles, a 36-year-old truck driver from Intercourse, said he simlpy didn't vote on the ballot question.
"I heard a lot about it and I don't completely understand it," he said. "I don't like voting on things I don't understand."
Those who voted for the charter said it is time for an overhaul of an antiquated form of government.
"It sounded like it simplified things," said Ruth Rutt, 80, a retired Lititz resident, who also said she likes that it would increase the number of commissioners. "I read in the newspaper about fighting with the commissioners and the one-upsmanship all the time."
Said Steve Brennaman, 54, an investment consultant from Manheim Township, "I like the idea of having five commissioners. ... I like more voices."
Greg Carey, 43, teaches at Lancaster Seminary. He said he voted yes on the home rule charter.
"I feel strongly about it. I think we need a more flexible form of government, to be able to form strategic plans. We'll have the opportunity for initiatives on the local level, like maybe getting a Department of Health," he said.
In addition to president and home rule, voters will also decide the race for the county's seat in Congress; pick state House members, state attorney general and state auditor general; and, in a large portion of the county, choose a successor for retiring state Sen. Gib Armstrong.
Voters were also deciding a referendum on whether to make $400 million available for water and sewer system repairs statewide.
When poll workers opened the doors at Martic Township's Mount Nebo United Methodist Church, they found 150 voters snaking out of sight around the huge macadam parking lot.
Many clutched coffee cups. A woman knitted in a lawn chair with a blanket draped over her knees. Residents arrived in wheelchairs and with walkers. Cars cruised for parking spots.
Chris Stover, 41, a research and development technician, was first in line at 6 a.m. He made a dent in a Reader's Digest and said he came early "to get it over with."
Next to him, Paul Sourbeer, a 71-year-old Marticville resident who delivers tires for a living, said he knew there would be a line and wanted to be able to vote and not be late for work.
The voting district has about 3,500 registered voters "and it looks like we've got them all this morning," observed Joe Owen, who manned the church's courtesy table and gave out Halloween candy and drinks to exiting voters.
About 65 miles northeast of here, at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown, in an election precinct considered to be a bellwether, 160 people were lined up by the time polls opened at 7 a.m. — the largest early turnout that church officials could remember.
At the other end of the state, about 20 people were lined up at the Dormont Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh when the polls opened.
This year, Democrats added nearly 600,000 Pennsylvania voters to their rolls while the GOP lost a little ground. Democrats now outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million.
Locally, just a few glitches were reported this morning, such as a malfunctioning voting machine at the Oyster Point polling place in East Hempfield Township.
Stehman, the county's top election official, said five technicians are available to fix problems and that voters always can revert to paper ballots.
Voter turnout was brisk all over the county, she said, noting, "I'm hearing that there's long lines."
At Brethren Village in Manheim Township, voters were being told they would be waiting in line as long as two hours this morning.
Election Day wasn't without reports of dirty tricks. At least 100 people had called county Republican headquarters saying they received telephone calls telling them their polling location has changed.
These people, including many senior citizens, were given bogus polling locations, said Republican county Commissioner Scott Martin, who is co-chairing McCain's campaign here.
"Obviously, it's an effort to confuse senior citizens and get them frustrated so they don't vote," he said.
Greg Paulson, chairman of the Lancaster City Democratic Committee, said his office had received no reports of similar calls.
(New Era staff writers Jack Brubaker, Ad Crable, Bernard Harris, Jane Holahan, David O'Connor, Ryan Robinson, Cindy Stauffer and Chad Umble contributed to this report.)